Defense Department Computers Attacked by ‘Malware’ Strike


Authored by Jon Mercer in Computer Software 
Published on 12-03-2008

Concerns were raised by a malware strike that recently hit combat zone computers in the U.S. Central Command that oversees the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The strike is thought to have come from within Russia; however this has not yet been confirmed by the Defense Department.

President Bush was briefed by top senior military leaders this week concerning the severe and widespread electronic attack on Defense Department computers. Strong concerns were raised among commanders about the computer incursion and its potential implications for national security.

The extent of the damage inflicted by the attack on the military networks could not be commented on by Defense officials; but they did say that the latest attack struck hard against the U.S. Central Command computers that coordinate U.S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. The attack also disrupted at least one highly protected classified network.

Even though government officials are withholding many sensitive details, the obvious implication is that computer warfare could one day be used to undermine the military.

Military electronics experts could not give the exact source of the attack, but it has been reported by Reuters that a confidential source says the malware strike was significant enough to attract the attention of the top brass at the Department of Defense.

The Defense Department is no stranger to attacks on their computer system by malicious hackers, computer viruses, and worms. But officials are allowing that this most recent attack involved a piece of particularly malicious software, or “malware,” that seems to have been specifically designed to target US military networks.

Deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow makes it a difficult time to discuss the suspicions of Russian involvement. The U.S. recently began to negotiate plans to develop a missile defense system in Europe and the Russians have expressed strong disapproval for the idea.

There have been growing concerns of cyber-attacks from other countries too, especially China, as well as attacks from individual computer experts. For example, last summer electronic attacks were launched against government computers in Georgia. Russia has denied any involvement in the attacks but it has been confirmed that the attack came from somewhere within the Soviet Union.

Agent.btz, as the invasive software is known, has been circulating in civilian computers for months. But only recently has it affected the Pentagon’s network. It has not yet been determined if the cyber-intrusion is the same as the one that has affected other computer systems.

The Defense Department went so far as to suggest a worldwide ban on flash drives and other plug in devices in an effort to curb the threat of the cyber-attacks — something that experts say would be next to impossible to achieve.


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